St. Louis motorists may not like the congestion the reconstruction of Highway 40 (officially I-64/40), the city’s main east-west artery, is bringing but they’re learning to live with it.
Nicknamed the “Big Fix” by some, the project is the first major reconstruction of the highway since it was built from the 1930s to the 1960s. It also is the largest project in MoDOT’s history and its first design/build effort. Some 170,000 vehicles traverse the highway daily.
For the most part, traffic is flowing at the three areas currently under construction, Linda Wilson, spokeswoman of the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), said.
The biggest area of congestion is at an area where no construction is currently under way at Eager and Hanley roads, Wilson said. Congestion, which was a problem in the area before the Highway 40 work began, is aggravated by the closing of a connector road when DCM began construction of an office building at Hanley near Eager.
Motorists can see “very visible progress” being made at Kings Highway, Tamm Avenue and the I-70 interchange, Wilson said.
“It is working great,” she said. “Traffic is flowing really well on Kings Highway” even though only two lanes of traffic are open in each direction.
“A lot of that credit [for reduced traffic in the area] goes to the hospital complex,” Wilson said. “They’ve really worked hard to spread the word with their employees and their patients to be more mindful about scheduling and trying to use alternate routes and Metrolink to get to and from the hospital, and it really seems to be working.”
Crews are building a bridge that carries Kings Highway over Clayton Avenue on the north side of the interchange and a bridge carrying Kings Highway over I-64/40. The new Kings Highway bridge is being built alongside the old one, which will be demolished.
“They’re building what will be half of the new bridge, which will be wider than the old one,” Wilson said.
“Traffic will be diverted to the new bridge near the end of the year and then they will tear the old bridge down and build the rest of the interchange. That phase is expected to be completed in the fall of 2008. Lane restrictions will be in place until the end of this year,” Wilson said.
“By Dec. 1 they will have it back open to three lanes in each direction,” she said.
The Kings Highway interchange will be a single point interchange similar to one MoDOT built at Olive and I-270. In a single-point interchange, all of the entrance and exit ramps come together at one signalized intersection at the center of the bridge.
Instead of two signalized intersections for each set of ramps to take vehicles on and off the highway, there is one signal in the middle of the bridge, Wilson said. For interchanges with very heavy volumes, this has been proven to be the most effective at moving large numbers of vehicle, she added.
“That’s why we put it at places that have really heavy volume like Kings Highway and Olive and 270,” she said. “They work very, very well for those interchanges that have a lot of traffic.”
At I-170 and I-64/40 crews are currently building new ramps to take westbound Highway 40 to northbound I-70 and the ramp from southbound I-170 to go eastbound on Highway 40.
“They’re moving along great,” Wilson said.
“The bridge piers are going up and they’ve placed some of the bridge girders for those bridges.”
The project is on schedule and the bridges are slated to be opened by the end of the year, she said.
“That is part of our traffic mitigation plan to handle the traffic flow when we close the western end of the project between I-170 and I-270 in January of ’08,” she said.
“These new ramps that they’re working on at the Innerbelt [I-70] are going to help traffic flow better between I-170 and Highway 40 to the east which will remain open. That’s where the focus is right now because they need those ramps to help the traffic flow because when we get to January of ’08, if you’re headed westbound on Highway 40, when you get to the Innerbelt, you have to go north. The highway  will be closed.”
In 2008 crews will build ramps that will allow motorists to go from eastbound I-64 to northbound I-170 and from southbound I-170 to eastbound I-64.
“There’s a ton of work that’s going to end up happening there but the main focus of the work at that interchange right now are those two direct ramps to I-170,” Wilson said.
“Everything is right on schedule, although MoDOT has no specific date in January,” Wilson said. “At that time westbound motorists will have to exit at I-170 and eastbound motorists will have to exit at Spoede.
“That whole four and a half mile stretch of Highway 40 will be closed and they will rebuild all of that in the calendar year of 2008,” she said.
Crews have not faced any unusual challenges on the project thus far, Wilson said.
“The biggest challenges early in a project always are utility relocations and we are relocating every utility. We’re dealing with all of them — Ameren [electric], Laclede [gas], MSD [sewer], Missouri American Water, AT&T, Charter — you name it and we’re dealing with them. Nothing unusual, but it is complicated. That’s always the case — especially at the very beginning of a construction project.”
Relocating utilities is difficult because “you have so many people working on top of each other,” she said.
“Everything is going great — the weather has been great so we’re not having any problems,” Wilson said. “Everything is progressing just fine.”
Wilson said she hears a lot of comments that since the work on the two on ramps at Hanley, “Highway 40 works so much better.
“I think that’s a sign of what’s to come because when Highway 40 is finished, those on-ramps from Hanley won’t get on right there,” she said.
The new construction will eliminate merging conflicts at Hanley and Brentwood mixing with motorists trying to merge on and off I-70, she added.
As for why things are going so well, Wilson said motorists seem to already be trying to avoid Highway 40.
“They’re already trying to find other routes and be prepared for when the closures start in January,” she said. It also helps that it’s summer, she said. “This is typically a lighter traffic time of the year for us.”
Workers removed the Tamm Avenue bridge on April 20, and plans were to open the new bridge within six months.
“It’s on schedule and will definitely be open before October,” Wilson said.
Crews recently poured the deck on the new bridge. The new bridge was defaced by vandals who sprayed graffiti on it but it has been cleaned up.
Three more bridges — at Bellevue, Highland and Boland in Richmond Heights — are scheduled to come down the weekend of Aug. 17 to 19, Wilson said.
“We do have to close the highway to do that,” she said. “We can’t let them fall down on traffic.”
The bridges will close Aug. 13 for utilities removal and other preparation for demolition. MoDOT will then close Highway 40 at 10 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 17 with detours in effect for the entire weekend. The highway will be open for Monday morning traffic.
Unlike the Tamm Avenue bridge which was exploded, the three bridges will be taken down mechanically.
“They’ll peck at them all weekend,” Wilson said.
Gateway Constructors, the team selected by MoDOT to rebuild the highway, is led by Granite Construction of Watsonville, Calif., and includes Fred Weber Inc. of Creve Coeur and Millstone-Bangert Inc. of St. Charles. Other team members include Parsons Transportation Group, URS and Vector Communications.
Work is in three phases with all lanes of both I-64 and I-170 slated to be open by Dec. 31, 2009. Final work and landscaping will follow with completion by July 31, 2010.
Meanwhile work is expected to be completed by the end of the year on a new bridge at I-170. MoDOT officials announced earlier this year that the construction company doing that job is ramping up work to have it completed by the end of the year to ease the flow of traffic on I-170 when Highway 40 is closed. CEG